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The Women's Fight

The Civil War's Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation

By Thavolia Glymph

392 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5363-1
    Published: February 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5364-8
    Published: November 2019

Littlefield History of the Civil War Era

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Historians of the Civil War often speak of "wars within a war"--the military fight, wartime struggles on the home front, and the political and moral battle to preserve the Union and end slavery. In this broadly conceived book, Thavolia Glymph provides a comprehensive new history of women's roles and lives in the Civil War--North and South, white and black, slave and free--showing how women were essentially and fully engaged in all three arenas. Glymph focuses on the ideas and ideologies that drove women's actions, allegiances, and politics. We encounter women as they stood their ground, moved into each other's territory, sought and found common ground, and fought for vastly different principles. Some women used all the tools and powers they could muster to prevent the radical transformations the war increasingly imposed, some fought with equal might for the same transformations, and other women fought simply to keep the war at bay as they waited for their husbands and sons to return home.

Glymph shows how the Civil War exposed as never before the nation's fault lines, not just along race and class lines but also along the ragged boundaries of gender. However, Glymph makes clear that women's experiences were not new to the mid-nineteenth century; rather, many of them drew on memories of previous conflicts, like the American Revolution and the War of 1812, to make sense of the Civil War's disorder and death.

About the Author

Thavolia Glymph is professor of history and law at Duke University and author of Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household.
For more information about Thavolia Glymph, visit the Author Page.


"By telling the important, yet often-overlooked story of how enslaved women fought for their rights, and how white women often upheld the status quo, Glymph has written a much-needed account of Civil War historiography."--Library Journal

“In the burgeoning literature on women and the Civil War, The Women's Fight is unique both because of the scope of its argument and the depth of its research. Glymph not only describes how the war affected women of all kinds but also examines their interactions with one another across boundaries of race, region, and class. The result is a fascinating and illuminating account that sheds important new light on America's greatest crisis.”--Eric Foner, author of The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

“Thavolia Glymph has written the first history of the Civil War that brings to light the full panoply of women’s thoughts and experiences. With eloquence, brilliance, and an unrelenting commitment to rendering the complexity of her gendered framework, she presents the war’s meaning to slave and free, black and white, Unionist and Confederate, elite and poor, combatant and noncombatant, and citizen and stateless refugee—all women in the ‘house divided against itself’ and in the fight that tore the nation asunder.”--Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Harvard University

“After many years of scholars writing a new social history of the Civil War's home front, here is a magisterial work on women--all women, white and black, North and South. Glymph captures the complexity, the conflicting allegiances, the profound experience of loss and sorrow, the political behavior of ordinary and unusual women who fought in their own ways for their ‘domestic sanctuaries,’ for freedom itself, to save lives and protect homes, and for the fate of two nations. Rooted in a lifetime of profound research, Glymph writes with passion about real women undergoing an epic transformation.”--David W. Blight, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

"Remarkably expansive and deeply penetrating, The Women’s Fight reorients our understanding of the Civil War. From battlefield to home front, from household to refugee encampment, Glymph shows us, with deftness and originality, the complex and contradictory social experiences that only the revolution of emancipation could produce and that only the gendered perspective she offers can provide. Black and white, rich and poor, Southerners and Northerners together compose this kaleidoscopically stunning account. A brilliant and beautifully rendered work of history."--Steven Hahn, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Nation Under Our Feet

“In prose that is both lyrical and riveting, Glymph, with her usual keen eye for issues of race, class, and section, breaks new ground in this story of how women met, understood, and responded to the exigencies of the Civil War.”—R. J. M. Blackett, author of Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery